The Smilin' Pope

Pope John Paul "the Great" left some big shoes to fill: it would be hard to find another human being who could be so absolutely and authentically loving of people in general. But, I contend, the current pope is doing a pretty good job of keeping up, and he certainly has a very warm personality that can't be easily disregarded.

Just one day after attending a Mass together, as a class, at the tomb of St. Peter the Apostle in the Vatican, the new men here at NAC had another amazing opportunity to visit our favorite (living) person in Rome – the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. During the summer, though, like all the rest of Rome’s population, he leaves the city and heads for the hills and cooler weather. So we all hopped on a bus and took off to Castel Gandolfo, the summer home of the papacy. After a little ride – let me tell you – we were not disappointed in the least…

Although we had to wait about an hour to actually get inside the piazza where the audiences are held, we finally got in and were ushered right to the front – right in front of where the pope appears and gives a small lesson each Sunday before the Angelus prayer. When he first popped out onto the balcony, met with loud cheers, he looked down to his left, at us (see photo), and was actually shocked to see all the seminarians, in cassocks and suits, standing before him. Throughout the catechesis, we all listened attentively until finally he came to the words:

“I am happy to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors. May your stay at Castel Gandolfo and Rome renew your love of the universal Church. I welcome the new seminarians of the Pontifical North American College, and pray that their formative years in Rome will help them to grow in wisdom and pastoral charity.” (Click below to hear the audio clip!)

Well, needless to say, this just about put us over the top – we cheered and hollered while Pope Benedict just stood there and smiled at us; it was really an unforgettable experience. After singing him the song Ad Multos Annos (“[We Wish You] Many Years”), he moved along and finally finished the audience, after which we all walked out of the piazza and into the papal gardens for a little tour. However, I don’t want to focus on that, as amazing as it was. The real marvel here is the connection I described between the Holy Father and his seminarians – between the Church and Christ, in reality. When the Vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth, spiritual father to over 1 billion Catholics world-wide, looked at a bunch of young seminarians, he actually – and I’m telling this first-hand – he actually got a little excited! How amazing is that!

Sometimes it’s so easy to forget what great missions we are called to in life, but when even the pope gets giddy thinking about the gift of the priesthood to the people of God, it’s hard to avoid such an incredible reality. The same is true for everyone: there is no fathoming the dignity of the vocation that God calls each of us to, and no matter how hard it gets to see the beauty, we are obligated to continually strive toward that very vocation that He has in store for each one of us. A real consolation lies in the fact that we are able, sometimes, to realize the beauty of one another’s vocation more easily than that of our own; thus, we are just as compelled to point out the Truth to our brothers and sisters in Christ as we are to find Him in our own lives. The Holy Father is able to do this in something as simple as a heartfelt smile. Such a powerful reassurance through something so basic is surely evidence of his own holiness, and evidence of the grace given to him by the divine person he represents here on Earth – Jesus Christ.